For musician Christine Balfa, having a famous father performing Cajun music throughout the country and helping organize the first “Tribute to Cajun Music” that later evolved into Festivals Acadiens et Créoles didn’t impress her that much as a teenager.
The older she became, she said, the more she “got it.”
“As an older teen, I was starting to think, ‘Wow, my dad’s pretty cool’,” Christine explained about her father, Dewey Balfa. “He saw value of our unique culture. Not that it was better than anyone else’s. He wanted to see others look in their own backyards and honor and respect their own. That was the time I started playing with him.”
In her youth, Christine performed with her father at Festivals Acadiens, captured in a photograph on the cover of “One Generation at a Time: Biography of a Cajun and Creole Music Festival” by Barry Jean Ancelet with photos by Philip Gould.
“I was actually really shy at the time but it was a great experience,” Christine said of performing at Festivals Acadiens. “It was a big event. It was very influential in my life.”
Dewey Balfa passed away in 1992, the first time the Balfa Brothers did not perform at Festivals Acadiens. Christine Balfa and her sister Nelda picked up the torch, leading the band Balfa Toujours at the 1993 event.
“There wasn’t a dry eye backstage and in the crowd either,” said Ancelet, a folklorist and scholar who is now head of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Department of Modern Languages.
“Whenever you go through a loss like that,” Balfa told Michal Shapiro in Roots World magazine, “you have to deal with it in some way. Luckily we had the music to help us.”
Later, when Christine toured with Balfa Toujours, the end of summer and performing at Festivals Acadiens was like a reunion for her. “It always felt like a homecoming every year. It’s still a great festival for that. It’s an important festival in a lot of ways.”
Christine’s daughters, Amelia and Sophie Powell, also perform Cajun music, enjoying the music with friends as well as family. Their musical skills could easily be chalked up to watching their musician parents performing both on stages and with friends. Or perhaps it dates back to their grandfather’s desires to honor the culture, resulting in Acadiana’s youth continuing the music on their own.
At a recent birthday party for Christine, for instance, she asked the girls if they wanted to join in on the adult jam session.
“They said, ‘You know Mom we’re going to do our own jam’,” she explained. “I don’t know what makes me happier.”
More than anything, Christine believes that events such as Festivals Acadiens et Créoles offers quality to life in a time when American culture is becoming homogenized and too fast paced.
“We’re living so fast we don’t see the things that give our lives quality — good conversation, cooking a meal together, playing music,” she said. “The festival is important and the culture is important because it provides quality of life. Because it’s quality of life and it’s fun.”
Christine Balfa will participate in the “Anniversaries 40-50-80: Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, Dewey Balfa at Newport, and Alan Lomax in Louisiana” symposium Thursday, Oct. 9, at Angelle Hall Auditorium on the University campus. She will be part of the panel, “Musicians and Family Members Reflect on the Festival.”
Balfa will perform the “Balfa Brothers Tribute: Balfa Toujours” with special guests Tony Balfa, Peter Schwartz, Ray Abshire on Friday evening and with daughters Amelia and Sophie Powell as part of the “One Generation at a Time: Families That Play Together” at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 11, on Scène Atelier. Other musicians with their children performing on Saturday include Steve Riley and his children Elise, Burke and Dolsy Riley, and Travis and Janson Matte. At 3:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12, the “One Generation at a Time” performance includes Mike, Cameron and Cade Dupuis; Sherelle Chenier and Lil Buck Sinegal; Terry, Phillip and Luke Huval; Yvette and Trevor Landry; and Richard and Stephen Comeaux on two stages.